Downtown & Its Relationship To The Waterfront

The Connecticut River is the single most important asset in Downtown Middletown. The riverfront represents the competitive edge the downtown possesses over most communities. The river holds the key to the long-term economic revitalization of the downtown. Middletown exists as a city today because of its relationship to the river and its future prosperity will be tied to the river.

Middletown’s evolution as a thriving agricultural and later industrial center was highly dependent on its proximity to the Connecticut River. Throughout the majority of its history, Middletown’s thriving downtown enjoyed and benefited from direct, at grade access to its waterfront.

In the late 1950’s the construction of Connecticut State Route 9 severed this extremely important link between the downtown and the waterfront. At the same time, redevelopment efforts did not recognize the waterfront as the single most significant natural and cultural resource in the City, and all too often new development turned its back on the then polluted river.

It was not until the environmental movement of the 1970’s, when the state and federal government enacted clean water legislation and began spending millions of dollars to clean the Connecticut River, which the City began to recognize the tremendous opportunities the reclaimed river had to offer. 

In recognition of the river’s value and to draw visitors to the waterfront, the City developed Harborpark and approved a popular restaurant and nightclub on the banks of the river. Now that popular amenities have been established on the waterfront, this plan recognizes that there is a need to re-establish a “pedestrian friendly” link between the downtown, Harborpark and the Connecticut River.

This plan advocates the creation of a carefully designed plaza over Route 9. This plan envisions this plaza as a stimulus for investment in an adjoining government/cultural plaza and major tourist attraction at the vacant deKoven Drive courthouse property. The MAT properties will provide the land mass for the total esplanade, which will once again reestablish the link between Main Street and the waterfront. (This plan recognizes the vital importance of the parking in this area and therefore advocates a redesign, which will increase the number of spaces). 

Once established, this new Columbus Plaza will allow visitors to the downtown to shop along Main Street, enter the Plaza for a concert or craft fair, proceed for a visit to a tourist attraction of statewide significance and then over Route 9 to the riverfront for a leisurely walk along an interpretive trail or for a drink and/or dinner at America’s Cup or a cruise down the Connecticut River.

While this plan recognizes that the above improvements are a crucial first step in the evolution of improved river access, the plan also recognizes that the ultimate solution is a much expanded riverfront plaza capable of accommodating mixed-use riverfront development. At this point, an exploratory committee should be established to:

  1. Begin consensus building
  2. The development of a conceptual plan
  3. The identification of funding sources, including private sector involvement
  4. The production of an informational and promotional document to be used when lobbying for special appropriations in future federal transportation acts

In addition to this improved river access, this plan mandates that all future development must accentuate the City’s relationship to the river. River views must be preserved, and where possible, enhanced. The view of the City from Route 9 and the river must continuously improve. The City must carefully scrutinize the architecture of buildings fronting on deKoven Drive and should strive to light the arches of the Arrigoni Bridge. In this way, Middletown will continue to develop its positive image as the City by the river.

Finally, as the City strives for improved access, and when improved access is achieved, it is essential that the harbor area be carefully managed. For this reason the plan advocates the creation of a harbor management plan, as allowed for in Section 22a-113n of the Connecticut General Statutes, by the Harbor Improvement Agency.